As we move forward into this new normal of continuing social distancing, wearing masks, and washing our hands, the million dollar question is, when will we return to life as we once knew it?
Retailers are opening back up with important restrictions in place to keep their staff and consumers safe, but when will retail traffic trends go back to the way they were pre-COVID-19?
Not any time soon is the short answer.
TRAFFIC SLOW, SLOW, SLOWING DOWN
When the shelter in place restrictions started to be lifted, we initially saw traffic improvements week over week, however, improvements have slowed down in the past few weeks. The traffic trend for July Week 1 was -46% to LY, in line with June Week 5, but declined from June Week 4, -42% to LY. Fourth of July traffic was -49% to LY, impacted by many states reclosing areas or re-imposing curfews and the anxiety of a second wave of coronavirus cases keeping shoppers out of stores.
In spite of slow-to-recover traffic metrics, other sales KPIs are showing positive increases to last year. Net sales have certainly suffered but conversion (CVR), average transaction value (ATV), and a metric we use called shopper yield (SY) are all positive to LY (Shopper Yield is a calculation of sales per shopper and calculated by net sales/traffic). We continue to see that CVR & Shopper Yield are impacted by factors such as only shoppers who are motivated to buy visiting stores, and the increase in services such as ship from store, buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, etc. Conversion rates did drop most recently in July Week 1 as the reality of supply chain issues hit home, with limited sizing availability in stores, new deliveries pushing out, or product customers had tried on in fitting rooms or returned being quarantined for specific amounts of time. It is important for retailers to market to their consumers when they are in decent stock positions or have newness in store so customers come in and convert. In these COVID times, it makes sense that the customers who are going into a store surely have a strong intent to purchase, however, we must continue to keep the shopper in mind as safety and convenience are key.
HOME CATEGORY AS A BRIGHT SPOT
Although all categories are still down to last year’s traffic trends, we are seeing the strongest trends from Home retailers, with open stores finishing June -29%. This is most likely due to shoppers spending more time at home and seeing where immediate improvements can be made to their house. Footwear has also been relatively strong as families have been spending a lot of time outdoors and children in some areas have been approved to go back to camp where new sneakers are a necessity. Jewelry is another business where trends were stronger in May and the beginning of June, due to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and high school and college graduation gifting, but has since slowed down towards the back half of June as these events were nearing their end. Beauty also performed better than other categories, but certain product types within Beauty are propping up the broader category. We have heard from industry partners that this is primarily due to positive performance in skincare, sunscreen and haircare, while lip and fragrance products have experienced lower sales in comparison. With mask regulations on the increase, beauty retailers have seen some uptick in eye makeup as that is one of the only areas not covered on the face. Apparel had continued its weak performance consistent with pre-shutdown trends but has improved over the last few weeks and open stores finished last week -42% to last year from -55% in June Week 1. Better performing areas have been athleisure, pajamas, and loungewear. Dress-up, career apparel, and tailored clothing have all been challenging, as to be expected.
STATES REOPENING… OR NOT
At the beginning of June, all 50 states had begun to reopen in some capacity after closures due to COVID-19. However, as cases began to rise again towards the end of the month, many states paused or reversed plans to reopen. Notably, this occurred in California & Michigan, where shelter in place policies went into effect earliest, and Texas, Arizona and Florida which were among the states with the shortest shelter in place orders and earliest business reopenings. Yet many states in the Midwest remained open and the majority of states in reopening phases were spread throughout the Northeast, including New York, where NYC was previously the epicenter of the virus in the US. In July week 1, all regions showed improvement to June Week 5 except for the Northeast. With New York City recently opening, traffic has been disappointing as people are fleeing the city out to the suburbs or nearby beach communities. Retailers are hopeful that traffic trends will improve as New Yorkers come back to the city in the coming weeks as New York City schools will be open with at least some aspects of in-person classes, as of now. As back to school plans continue to evolve nationwide, we will watch closely to measure the impact on store traffic and recovery metrics and as the mother of 3 young children, my own sanity.
EMEA SHOWING STRONGER SIGNS OF LIFE
In looking “across the pond” at EMEA trends, we have seen improvement week over week with current traffic trends -49% to LY. The Middle East had a stronger week, -34% to LY which was +7 points compared to June Week 5. Unlike the United States, European countries are only seeing occasional “blips” of COVID-19 case spikes as they reopen. However, factors such as travel restrictions limiting traffic to heavy summer tourism countries, France delaying their famous summer sales (which now started this week, July Week 2) and Paris Fashion Week- which was online through July 12th- will likely continue to impact EMEA traffic trends.
With Back to School season about to start, let’s all work together and get this country back to normal- and if not normal, let’s embrace this new normal. Wear masks, wash your hands, and social distance, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 together 😊
For June 2020’s retail performance, download our recent Performance Pulse Report.
Susan Davidson is a Retail Consultant at RetailNext. With over 16 years of retail experience, Susan has worked in both digital and retail sides of the business. Susan has worked for retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, J.Crew, & Ralph Lauren concentrating on Merchandising, Buying, and Planning. She lives outside New York City with her husband and 3 small children.